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Winter seed starting challenges  RSS feed

 
Dennis Lanigan
Posts: 175
Location: Philomath, OR
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I live in zone 4a Minnesota and I'm trying to plan out my (annual) garden starts. I am new to such a cold climate and have some questions that maybe folks could answer.

My set up is this: I have a four tier industrial rack that has two grow lights (one 2x4 and another 4x4) to start everything inside. For bottom heat I'm creating heat mats with incandescent rope lights. This system worked for me in Olympia, WA. So far so good.

The problem is what do I do once everything gets going? I will quickly run out of light and heat space in the house and will need to start putting stuff outside -- and average low temps in MN in March are around 36 F. (Current temp is 13 F).

My ideas so far:

1) Start late and just focus on starting seeds mid/late March. Make a small hoop house for when night temps are a manageable 40-45 F. Other heat ideas: surround base of hoophouse in strawbales. Put black 55 gallon drum with water inside the hoophouse.

2) Winter sowing. This is a new idea to me and is so simple and attractive that it's taking a little bit for me to put my head around. Basically you just put trays of cold hardy seeds to germinate outside. That's it. Many people swear by this technique and it's a little hard to believe, but it's brilliant. Many cold climate folks should take note of this technique if they haven't already. I just can't believe that I'm going to put seed trays outside, on the deck, on top of two feet of snow...I could see this for Rhodiola Rosea. But Tomatoes and Peppers? See for yourself: http://www.wintersown.org/


Do people have any other ideas or suggestions?

 
R Scott
Posts: 3357
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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coldframes. six straw bales and a couple windows or shower doors (shower doors are tempered glass and cheap/free on CL or habitat). When done in the spring, use the straw as mulch.
 
DeLaney Becker-Baratta
Posts: 40
Location: Grand Rapids, MI
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I made quick hoop houses last year to extend my growing season. This year I think they will be useful to warm the soil after the snow melts. It was -10 degrees last night here in MI so I am hoping spring gets here soon. The hoops were made using rebar pounded halfway into the ground with pvc pipes attached to each side of the rebar, making half circles over my garden beds.
 
Dennis Lanigan
Posts: 175
Location: Philomath, OR
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I'm liking the strawbale coldframe idea. I still think it's too cold to do anything outside (we'll be in the teens for highs until the weekend), but a strawbale cold frame might do the trick once it warms up a bit. It will at least give me some more room.
 
Jesse Paul
Posts: 2
Location: Central Minnesota USA
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Some of my fellow central Minnesota grower friends tried the winter seed sowing thing last year. After a long germination period The plants were weak to start, then took off, which was bad because we had like and extra month of winter that year, so they all died. I started mine indoors much like your setup, but just waited an extra month, and was about right. Once the seedlings are up and looking hardy, you can keep them cooler to slow the growth until they are ready to go out. Coldframes with old windows and strawbales work great.
 
Ann Torrence
steward
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Location: Torrey, UT; 6,840'/2085m; 7.5" precip; 125 frost-free days
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I've done winter sowing three times. No matter how tidily I plant the seeds, they redistribute as I water so I end up with a "hunk o' seedlings." But for anything wildflowerish, or with long germination periods, where I don't have the indoor space, it's a help.

I figure it's a good method for anything that would self-sow eventually or that wants a stratification period. I save milk jugs in the fall/winter, use them to winter sow, then completely cut the tops off to use as cloches for peppers. Three uses for a single use container isn't bad. Kitty litter jugs are good too.

It's a bit late to start now though.
 
DeLaney Becker-Baratta
Posts: 40
Location: Grand Rapids, MI
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So far I have sown many seeds indoors under grow lights. There is still snow on the ground and it was snowing this morning! I am hoping I can get my seedlings out by the end of April so they can get an early start in May. I will cover my seedlings and direct seeds with frost cloth so they don't freeze on cold nights. I live in Michigan so it can be hard to tell when winter is finally over. I have had the seeds incubating for about five days and I already have vigorous shoots of kale, swiss chard and some basil too! I am excited for the growing season this year!
 
Mike Feddersen
Posts: 357
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I have spent the day learning how to start seeds outdoors in Winter in mini-greenhouses, also known as jugs, water, milk, juice, etc.










 
Joseph Lofthouse
garden master
Posts: 2611
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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Dennis:

What is the goal? Why are you starting things indoors?

I believe that understanding the answers to those questions may simplify your life...

I start seeds indoors for a few reasons:

1- To get a head start on weeds.

2- For season extension.

3- To give the plants a head start on the bugs.

4- To avoid spring dry spells.

Let me give some examples... My weather is too cold for fava beans to survive the winter. My spring is too short for fava beans to mature before the summer heat stops them from setting fruit. So I start fava beans about 3 weeks before the snow melts, and plant them into the garden within a couple days of snow melt. That extends the season long enough for them to make seeds for me. So the fava beans are planted outside about 7 weeks before I need the space to start growing tomatoes.

If I plant onion seeds into the garden, they get lost in weeds, because they come up so slowly. However, if I start them indoors before I start the fava beans, then I can have tiny onion plants ready to go into the garden in early spring, and they don't get lost so easily in the weeds. The onions are a cold hardy crop, so they can go into the garden a long time before I need the growing space for tomatoes.

Some crops are highly unsuited to being transplanted. I include tap-root crops in this category. Things like radishes, turnips, carrots, beets. It's too hard to avoid messing with the tap-root. Some crops tend to grow better for me if they are not transplanted. They include: fennel, garbanzo beans, cucumbers, melons, and squash. I don't transplant beans or squash, because the seeds are so big, and they jump out of the ground so quickly, that there is little advantage to transplanting.

Many crops grow best in cold weather. They can be planted between snow storms. If planted after the weather is warm, then they have lost most of their growing season. Cold weather crops include: peas, onions, lots of medicinals and herbs, orak, turnips, bok choi, cilantro, parsnips, kale. Crops that like slightly warmer weather, but still thrive in spite of freezing from time to time are chard, beets, carrots, cabbage. Crops that are very suitable for growing as cool-weather transplants include: Cabbage, kale, kohlrabi broccoli, and bok choi. And they can go into the garden before the space is needed for tomatoes.

Tomatoes and peppers are long season crops that start off slowly. My season is too short to grow them successfully if direct seeded, so I aim to have 6 to 8 week old plants ready to go into the garden after the last spring frosts. They are only about 4" tall when I plant them out, but I like that, cause they don't take up too much space.

First thing in the spring, my plants experience tremendous predation by flee beetles. I can direct seed cabbage, and it matures the same time as transplants. However, direct seeded cabbage is often so bug eaten that the crop is as likely as not to fail if direct seeded. A good timing for planting out cabbage is about 4 weeks after the favas go into the garden. So I can do successive planting in my indoor grow space: Favas --> Cabbage --> Tomatoes. Okra is another crop that I grow as transplants in order to get a head start on the bugs.

My spring rains are not consistent, so I have dry spells. My irrigation water doesn't come in until June. Therefore, I often have crop failures of direct seeded brassicas due to erratic germination. However, if I put transplants into the ground, they are big enough to reach the residual soil moisture and they thrive.

Also. Even if I am not ready to transplant things outside, the cool weather crops can be stored outside once they are within their comfort zone... Perhaps bringing them in only on the coldest of cold nights. Thus the space can be freed up for warmer weather crops.

Cool Weather crops being stored outside the greenhouse, because the space inside was needed for tomatoes, peppers, okra, etc.


These mullein plants were basically wintersown... Planted in weed-free potting soil, and allowed to germinate when they were ready. The seedlings are super tiny. Growing them in pots in weed-free soil allows them to be big enough to see at transplant time. This sort of sowing is particularly useful for species with tiny seeds that take a long time to germinate.


Might as well direct seed plants that germinate quickly and grow fast, like calendula, fenugreek, chia, corn, beans, squash, muskmelons, cucumbers, borage, mustard, and peas.






 
John McDoodle
Posts: 524
Location: ontario, canada
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I've already started some all-heirloom watermelons and cucumbers and apple trees and tomatoes using limited space and only 2 CFLs indoors, because I'm in Canada and I want a head start , but it's too cold outside yet
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